[OUTLOOK]Don’t expect UN to clean up IraqNow that the huge statue of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad has fallen, who shall govern Iraq?
Even before U.S. troops entered the Iraqi capital, the European Union demanded that the “UN must continue to play a central role” and “manage the whole process.” At their St. Petersburg summit this past weekend, French President Chirac, German Chancellor Schroeder and Russian President Putin strongly echoed these sentiments.
This is curious. As the British magazine The Economist put it: “Having failed to stop the Americans and British from launching this war, France, Russia and Germany, which led the anti-war diplomacy, are now intent on denying the victors a special say, let alone a free hand, in putting Iraq back together.” In effect, this trio is saying to America and Britain: “What you did was wrong and illegal, but now that you succeeded, we want to be partners in this wrong and illegal enterprise.”
Why this sudden insistence on making common cause with those two nations who only yesterday were condemned by Paris, Berlin and Moscow as breakers of international law? Logic has little to do with it.
The real issue is again power. If the UN takes over in Iraq, those who tried to contain and constrain American power in the run-up to the war will have another chance to do so in the UN Security Council, where France and Russia can wield their vetoes against Britain and the United States.
No wonder that the Bush administration is not amused. If things go wrong in postwar Iraq, Washington will be blamed, with or without the UN. Why then give up one’s freedom to act -- especially since the main purpose of the Paris-Berlin-Moscow “axis” is once more to hobble and not to help America?
But quite apart from this great-power game, there is the critical issue of ability: Can the UN actually manage the task of reconstruction, which is not just a humanitarian, but also a political and economic problem? Is the UN strong and wise enough to build a functioning system on the ruins of 30 years of totalitarian rule?
The experience in Kosovo, after the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999, suggests that the UN is not well equipped to handle the task of “nation building.”
Together with the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the UN has been in charge of reconstruction in Kosovo. But in the past four years, little if any “reconstruction” has taken place.
Least of all where it comes to “democratization.” Writes the UN scholar Roland Paris in his forthcoming book, “At War’s End: Building Peace After Civil Conflicts”: “The powers of Kosovo’s elected assembly were limited and subject to the oversight of the Special Representative of the [UN] Secretary-General, who retain-ed the right to dissolve the assembly, call for new elections, and veto any measure passed by the assembly that violated the purposes of the operation.” This is not a good way to build democracy.
Nor has the UN acted as an agent of economic development. “After NATO’s intervention,” writes Stephen Schwartz of the U.S.-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, “the UN did everything possible to maintain or restore the position of former socialist bureaucrats.”
When the UN presented a regulation on privatization, “Kosovo experts objected that its principal effect would be to reaffirm state ownership of nationalized property rather than to restore private property rights.”
Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi dissident who wrote the standard book on Iraq under Saddam, “Republic of Fear,” is also skeptical. “Arab governments would much rather have a UN administrator in Iraq. And if [the administrator] is a member of one of those governments, Iraq will simply be governed by the lowest common denominator of Arab politics, which is certainly not democracy.”
Above all, the UN is singularly ill-equipped to deal with the security of postwar Iraq. The UN is not a power in its own right; it will always have to depend on the forces of its member states.
Who then will dispatch his soldiers to keep Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis from going after each other? Who will root out the remnants of Saddam’s murderous regime?
The Germans will not send any troops, and neither will the French or the Russians. The only two nations capable of restoring and maintaining order are Britain and the United States, whose troops are already in Iraq and who were willing to make the sacrifice of fighting in the first place.
Postwar security is simply the most crucial issue. The best example in history is not Kosovo, but South Korea and Taiwan. In those two countries, the United States took care of security and then allowed not foreign UN bureaucrats, but local entrepreneurs to put their nations on a breathtaking course of economic growth. To be sure, rampant economic modernization did not generate democracy right away; instead there were Chiang Kai-shek and Syngman Rhee, dictators both.
But one generation later, democracy did sink roots in Taiwan and South Korea, fertilized by sustained prosperity and the growth of a strong middle class.
A similar development took place in defeated Germany and Japan, where democracy was stabilized by their fabled “economic miracles.”
All of these countries flourished because of their security umbrella -- “Made in U.S.A.”
It could happen again in Iraq, but not under the watch of the United Nations.
* The writer is editor of Die Zeit, a German weekly, and an associate of the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University.
by Josef Joffe